CLEARWATER — Peter Clark came home from work one day in 2005 to find a Western Union envelope. He figured it was junk mail. Almost threw the letter away. Luckily, he didn't.
The envelope contained an official reinstatement order from Uncle Sam. Clark's career as a stockbroker was put on hold. He had already served 12 years in the U.S. Army, but for the last eight wasn't on active duty. That ended when he was told to report for "regreening" — training to help him figure out how to be in the Army again.
"I read the fine print over three times . . . ," said Lt. Col. Clark, who grew up in Clearwater and is now stationed at Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
"At first I was shocked. I guess I hadn't read the fine print when I was first commissioned in 1985. Here I was, 43 years old and engaged a little over a week. My fiancee was coming over for dinner. Nobody in her family had been military and she'd only been in this country for two years. I asked her, 'Are you sure you still want to get married?' " Clarke grimaces. "Not the right choice of words."
It is that candor, that sense of humor, that helped Clark adjust to Army life again. He and his fiancee, Gabriela, moved their wedding date up to the very next weekend. Clark left a month later.
From 2005 to 2009, Clark served twice in Iraq, after an initial assignment in Djibouti, Africa. He was also deployed to Qatar, Afghanistan, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Kyrgyzstan.
In his words, he became a "staff monkey" or "staff personnel who translate the general's bright ideas into actionable plans." A bit different from Clark's job as a Smith Barney stockbroker for eight years in Salinas, Calif.
"I promised to keep my co-workers in Salinas and family in Clearwater and Tampa updated," said Clark, 49. "I sent weekly e-mails about the human side of dealing with everyday Army life. It's deadly serious what we're doing, but if you hang around the office, you'll see the lighter side."
Clark saw humor in the mundane of life in a war zone and shared what he saw through the e-mails. The writing became a chronological journal.
Clark never expected his electronic journaling to morph into a humorous book on Army life, but that's what happened. Patriot Media, a publisher out of Niceville, that specializes in military-themed works, recently published his book, Staff Monkeys: A Stockbroker's Journey Through the Global War on Terror.
In the beginning, he called the correspondence his "Djibouti Djournal." He had an ability to discover levity in the challenges of daily Army life in countries with unfamiliar customs. He made fun of the red-tape-filled world of service life in general. Office workers in and out of the armed services could identify with what Clark wrote. They smiled at his sarcastic but good-hearted depiction of Army life.
On the book's first page, Clark's first e-mail from "regreening" training at Fort Benning, Ga., on April 27, 2005, illuminates his perspective: Just to let you know that the Army is very politically correct. Every room has to have the room number posted in Braille. I guess this is for all the blind soldiers in the unit.
Over time, his e-mails were forwarded throughout all the Smith Barney offices in northern California.
"I didn't know it," said Clark. "No one told me because they were afraid I'd tone it down."
Not likely. His jokester side had always helped him adjust, since Clark's military career began in 1985 as an artillery officer. He served in South Korea, did a tour in Panama at the Jungle Warfare School, and was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. Roughing it was not new to him. However, Clark admits the world and the Army appeared different from what he calls his middle-aged perspective.
He describes living in Djibouti, Africa, for 13 months: "We were given the finest canvas tents the Marine Corps had to offer. They'd been sitting in the sun for three or four years … We had sandbags piled five feet high outside, just in case something came in. Your residence was a six-by-six plywood cubicle you put inside the tent."
As he laughed about things like the Army making lead-free bullets, people began to notice Clark's writing. By the time he was on his second tour in Iraq, his former track coach at Clearwater Catholic High School, Bob Estes, was getting the e-mails from Clark's sister.
"He asked if I minded him if he forwarded them to a friend of his who had done some writing," Clark said. "When I got back I met with her. She told me, 'You've got something here.' In the meantime the Army decided I should go to Jordan and Afghanistan — I guess they thought I needed more material for a book."
Ironically, Clark wasn't the first in his family to be called back to duty. His father, Charles, served during the occupation of Japan and was reinstated in the Army during the Korean War.
What is Clark most proud of?
"That I've been able to deploy throughout the Middle East and I have still kept my sense of humor."